“And like that I’m an orphan.” My friend’s words, said to me maybe 15 years ago, still stick with me at times like this. We’re at this age where it’s almost a rite of passage to say goodbye to a parent. It’s like we’ve finally arrived at our place in the world, with lives and relationships and work and home and adult responsibilities to manage, and we think we’re actually managing this adulting thing fairly well, all considered. Then there’s the illness or the worsening of something that’s been lingering. These “ings”, harbingers of the weird space to come, replete with more: flailing and failing and ending and longing and remembering and clinging…
I couldn’t cry at my dad’s funeral. It’s not that I wasn’t broken. It’s not that I wasn’t devastated or heartsick or completely shattered from watching him wither and fade and leave this spatial plane. It’s that all the screaming and crying and throwing furniture and ranting and raging that was going on in my head to fill the black silence simply drowned out any possibility of tears.
I walked New York City blocks by the dozen when my dad was sick, letting the din of the City dull the noise in my head. I asked the New England woods to do their magic to cure the heartache. I alienated friends, abused privilege at work, avoided family, wrecked more than one relationship. I tried to fill the void with clutter, to silence the silence. Yet I didn’t cry because that would mean the melancholia had won.
These thoughts all stirred in me this weekend, as the heart of one of those closest to me is in pieces. He flies home tomorrow to bury his dad, and all I can do is offer my heart and my words in solidarity.
Who the fuck came up with “I’m sorry” as the right thing to say when someone’s loved one dies? I feel your pain and your emptiness and the Atlas-like weight of this sorrow, the burden of wearing that badge representing a rite of passage you never asked to achieve. We aren’t permanent. Nothing is, mon cher… when a parent dies, what a brutal reminder it is that it’s all impermanent, and we can’t do anything to change that. All the I’m sorrys in the world won’t bring him back. Yours, or mine.
And, still, the tears won’t come because maybe that means we’re okay with being impermanent too. And quite not ready for that just yet… Because there are mountains to climb and seas to swim; lessons to pass on to the kidlets; things to do that would make pappa proud; unfinished symphonies, perhaps, to learn; or bad dad jokes to tell…
Maybe “I’m with you” are the better words to offer than “I’m sorry.” The word condolence, after all, comes from the Latin condole, to suffer together.